I started seeing it now—five people walk into a room, two die, but four walk out. “So he’s not taking no for an answer.”

“Not taking ‘no’?” Dre sat up and put the key chain in his jeans. “Timur crashes into the room, says, ‘I take baby,’ and goes to cut the umbilical cord. I swear to Christ—I never saw anything like it. He grabs the surgical shears, starts coming toward me with them, I’m holding the baby, we’ve all just been laughing and hugging and crying and here’s this Chernobyl mutant coming at me with surgical shears. He’s got them open and he’s heading right for the umbilical cord, one eye closed ’cause he’s so fucked up he’s seeing double, and that’s when Zippo jumps on his back and cuts his throat with the scalpel. I mean, just opens it from one side to the other.” He covered his face in both hands for a moment. “It was the worst fucking thing I ever saw and I did my ER internship in Gary, Indiana.”

I hadn’t heard anything from the back bedroom in a while. I stood.

Dre didn’t even notice. “Here’s the best part. Timur the Chernobyl Mutant? Even with his throat cut, he flips Zippo off his back and as soon as Zippo hits the ground, Timur shoots him three times in the chest.”

I stood by the bedroom door, listening.

“So now we’ve got this freak of nature with a cut throat pointing a gun at us, and we’re all going to die, right? But then his eyes roll back to whites and he drops toward the floor and he’s already gone by the time he lands.”

I knocked softly on the bedroom door.

“We don’t know what to do at first, but then we realize no matter what happens, they’ll probably kill us. Kirill loved Timur. Treated him like his favorite dog. Which, when you think of it, he was.”

I knocked softly again. I tried the door. It was open. I pushed it inward and looked in at an empty bedroom. No baby. No Amanda.

I looked back at Dre. He didn’t seem surprised. “She gone?”

“Yeah,” I said. “She’s gone.”

“She does that a lot,” he said to Angie.

We stood out back, looking at a small yard and a strip of gravel that ran along the edge of the yard in a downward slope and ended at a thin dirt alley. Across the alley was another yard, much bigger, and a white Victorian with green trim.

“So, you had another car back here,” I said.

“You’re the private investigators. Aren’t you supposed to check for stuff like that?” He took a snort of the clean mountain air. “It’s a stick.”


“Amanda’s car. A little Honda thing. She just dropped the emergency brake and rolled to the alley, took a right.” He pointed. “She made the road in about ten seconds from there, would be my guess, and then she turned the engine over, popped it into first.” He whistled through his lower teeth. “And a-way she went.”

“Nice,” I said.

“She does it a lot, like I said. She’s half-jackrabbit. Anything bothers her, she just leaves. She’ll be back.”

“What if she doesn’t come back?” I said.

He plopped down on the couch again. “Where’s she going to go?”

“She’s the Teenage Great Impostor. She can go anywhere.”

He held up an index finger. “Correct. But she doesn’t. This whole time on the run, I’m like you—I’ve been advocating foreign countries, islands. Amanda won’t go for it. This is where she was happy once, this is where she wants to stay.”

“It’s a nice sentiment,” Angie said, “but no one’s that sentimental with their life on the line, and Amanda strikes me as far less sentimental than most.”

“Yet”—he raised his hands to the sky—”here we are.” He hugged his arms. “I’m cold. Heading back in.”

He went back inside. I started to follow, but Angie said, “Hang on a sec.”

She lit a cigarette and her hands shook. “Yefim threatened our daughter?”

“It’s what they do to rattle you.”

“But it’s what he did. Yes?”

After a moment, I nodded.

“Well, it worked. I’m rattled.” She took a few quick puffs off her cigarette, and for a time she wouldn’t meet my eyes. “You gave your word to Beatrice you’d find Amanda and bring her home. And you . . . baby, you’d break yourself in half before you’d break your word, which is what I probably love most about you. You know that?”

“I do.”

“You know how much I love you?”

I nodded. “Of course. Gets me through more than you know, believe me.”

“Back at ya.” She gave me a shaky smile and took another shaky toke off her shaky cigarette. “So you have to honor your word. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

I saw where this was going. “But you don’t have to.”

“Exactly. ‘It’s who you give your word to.’ ” She smiled, her eyes filling.

“You know how hot it is that you can quote The Wild Bunch?”

She gave me a faux curtsy, but then her face returned to something serious and addled.

“I don’t care about these people,” she said. “I mean, did you listen to that story in there? That turd isn’t just a turd, he’s a monster turd. He sells babies. In a just world, he would be getting raped in prison, not sitting in a warm living room in a pretty little town. And now my daughter’s in danger? Because of them?” She pointed at the house. “It’s not an acceptable risk-versus-reward equation for me.”

“I know.”

“Knowing that they know she’s in Savannah? She’s not going to sleep tonight without me.”

I told her that I’d alerted Bubba and that he’d let me in on the backup he’d brought down South with him, but it didn’t seem to do much to allay her fears.

“That’s nice,” she said. “It is. He’s Bubba and he’d die protecting her. I don’t doubt that. But, baby? I’m her mother. And I need to get to her. Tonight. No matter what it takes.”

“Which is what I love most about you.” I took her free hand. “You’re her mom. And she needs her mom.”

She laughed, but it was a torn, wet laugh, and she ran the heel of her hand under each eye. “Her mom needs her.”

She draped her arms over my shoulders and we kissed in the bright cold, which made the smooth warmth of her tongue even warmer, even smoother.

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